🎬 #4 One of the Best Films Ever Made
Can't believe it's Week 4 of the newsletter, hope you are all enjoying it and, please, always feel free to send any feedback my way. As the weeks go on you will see the newsletter evolve to be better and better in terms of design and functionality, but also in terms of what I'm actually saying about each film.
It's an experiment so you'll see it adapt and change. Onto this week's two films, they were partly inspired by thinking about genre from last week. One of them is in top 5 of all time. Both deal with sci-fi concepts - and instead of that genre term being a weight to bear, it's treated lightly as a gateway to tell compelling stories. And both are freely available!
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: CHILDREN OF MEN
2006 Dir Alfonso Cuarón
I'd say I've watched this film as much as any of my favourite films but every time I rewatch it, I notice something more. I know that's a cliche but in this film's case it's true. The full, dense layering of the production design and art direction ensures that not a frame is wasted in setting up the world. I'd say this is one of the best designed films of the last 20 years. It does near future without resorting to the tropes of sci-fi, in fact I'd say it's the most convincing near future world I've seen on film - because it doesn't just feel real, it feels inevitable. The film uses it's near future setting and sci-fi premise, that women can no longer get pregnant, to carry a story about a journey of faith. We follow Clive Owen's character as he sheds the crutches he uses to distance himself from the world and in the end he chooses to move towards life itself. It's about the triumph of humanity in even the bleakest of worlds. As I indicated in the intro, the sci-fi-ness doesn't weigh heavy on the film, it liberates it, letting the filmmakers explore themes that are more pertinent today than even when the film was made. Science fiction is the idea genre, it gives storytellers the leaping off point to go closer to subjects that would be deemed too on the nose or sensitive if not explored from this more conceptual place.
Lots has been written about the bravado unbroken take that opens the third act of the film, but what's even more impressive is that the film feels so casual and real - the relationships, the low hazy, grey skies of the UK. You're hooked in from the opening seconds. You're in it for the journey, because you can believe everything about the world. Because it's more real, than sci-fi.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 49 minutes of my precious life watching this? Clive Owen finds a reason to live as he navigates a near future dystopian UK to find salvation by the sea.
Excuse the early 2000's style trailer
*Available for free for Amazon Prime customers*
Fact: The big set-piece that you'll see near the end of the film, the crew had 14 days to execute it. They hadn't rolled cameras until day 13. They only had 2 attempts each day because of the set-up and reset time, and the take they used is the final take on day 14. And they only got it because the sound of the onset explosions drowned out Alfonso's cries to cut.
FILM TWO: LA JATÉE
1962 Dir Chris Marker
I saw this film in the first year of University and it blew me away. Like Children of Men it uses its sci-fi premise as a jumping off point - experiments in time travel, to explore themes of perception, memory and destiny. Like the film above it also begins with a man being drawn into a journey by a woman from his past. The power of this film, created purely from still photographs and narration is incredible. The editing and pacing is a flawless. If you want to witness how crucial and beautiful editing is - please watch this. Because it's so stripped back you can see it in all its glory.
The film embodies the feeling of a dream better than any other film I can think off. We follow the protagonist through his memories [or maybe it's his dream state] specifically of one moment on an airport viewing platform. In fact it's because his memory is so strong that he's selected for the experiment. There is no machinery involved other than an eye mask device. None of the technicalities of temporal distortion are explained, he just puts on the mask and we're into it. He's pulled in and out of the past, as we witness one of the greatest twists unravel over the course of 26 minutes. Essential, short viewing.
TL;DR why should I spend exactly 26 mins 37 secs of my precious life watching this? In the time it takes to watch an episode of Friends, you can watch the greatest time travel film maybe ever made because it doesn't care about the mechanics of it, it cares about the impact it has on the characters, as it builds to a triumphant twist that knocks the air out of you, like a hybrid of a Ray Bradbury short story and a half-remembered dream.
Available right here on YouTube for free
Fact: Served as a major inspiration for 12 Monkeys even though Terry Gilliam denies that was ever the case.